Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mugr: searching for a missing person?

Looking for someone who's seemingly vanished?

It happens to families more often than one might imagine. Often the missing person is dead, but sometimes they've decided to take a very long walk.

One day soon you'll fire up a product like Mugr and let it work for a while.

There are a lot of images on the net.

Good and bad, of course.

XP shortcuts display path in NTFS Extended Attribute Comments

NTFS supports metadata for files that are stored in NTFS extended attributes. This includes Title and Comments. Sharepoint 2007 may read this data and use it, but I primarily use it as a modern version of the utility PC Magazine created for PC/MS-DOS in the 1980s. [1]

To display title and comments in file view RMClick on the explorer column title bar and select the attributes you want to see. Then set all folders to the same view.

There are some problems with these EAs. WinZip, at least by default in the version I have, doesn't zip them up. Some backup software will ignore them. The workflow for creating and editing them is very awkward (right click, properties, click tab, edit).

Today I discovered a feature however. If you view Favorites with comment enabled, you see the path to the original. That's handy.

Now if only someone would create a drag and drop utility such that if I dropped a Favorite on it I'd see the original pop up. Hmm. I wonder if there's a way to do this using ancient DOS Batch files ...

[1] Update 5/21/09: This may have unexpected consequences esp. on Windows 2003 server -- due to a very dark and old Microsoft hack.

Access 2007: It's really bad

I'm very unimpressed with Office 2007, but there are some good things. Word 2007, if you use the new lock-in proprietary never-extract-your-data nobody-can-read-it XML file format has some fixes to its primeval style and formatting problems. Excel 2007 is still Excel. Outlook 2007 fixes some ancient bugs (if you sort a category view it no longer breaks the view) and is only somewhat more sluggish than Outlook 2003. It might even work better with Sharepoint 2007. PowerPoint 2007 is as frozen in time as every version of PowerPoint since 1997 or so. [1]

And then there's Microsoft Access 2007.

I've been using this software intensively for months now, and it's really bad. We're switching back to Office 2003 and Access 2003. (Shades of everyone's Vista to XP regression, but we weren't dumb enough to do Vista.)

The way I use Access makes very heavy use of complex queries and some embedded functions with large data sets. In this domain Access 2007 added nothing of value and has some serious regressions. Access 2003, for example, had some ability to fix-up queries when column labels or even table names were revised. Access 2007 more often breaks the links and destroys the query builder view.

All the problems with Access 2003, like the fragility of links to external data sources (no relative links for example), remain. The only minor advantages are better handling of Sharepoint (SQL Server) 2007 exotic data types.

It's probably a bit slower too.

I've seen some regressions in my day, but Access 2007 is the biggest regression I've run into since WordPerfect bombed its Windows transition (with a bit of help from Microsoft of course).

Don't use this turkey.

[1] How could they not fix the "custom slide show" UI? PowerPoint source code must be seeded with antimatter mines.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Problems with made in China had drives?

The events of the last six months make it easy to believe that "made in China" is bad news for hard drives.
Data recovery firm sounds Mac hard drive damage alert | Reg Hardware

... Clarke blamed the problem what he described as 'poor quality control in Chinese hard drive factories' - an issue he maintained affects other hard drive makers in addition to Seagate. He also warned all hard drive buyers to avoid HDDs manufactured in China...
I buy it. I'd much prefer Thailand, Singapore, etc.

Monday, October 29, 2007

OX 10.5 Leopard: the Ars Technica review

Mandatory reading for Apple geeks, all of whom will mentally underline one paragraph

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: the Ars Technica review: Page 4

...Why, Apple? Why!? Was there something horribly wrong with the existing menu bar—something that could only be fixed by injuring its legibility? Like the folder icons and the Dock, it's not so much a fatal flaw in and of itself. It's what it implies about the situation at Apple that is so troubling. What in the holy hell has to happen in a meeting for this idea to get the green light? Is this the dark side of Steve Jobs's iron-fisted rule—that there's always a risk that an obviously ridiculous and horrible idea will be expressed in his presence and he'll (inexplicably) latch onto it and make it happen? Ugh, I don't even want to think about it...

Jobs gets the blame for most of the horde of bizarre UI decisions. We can only hope, like the last minute Dock overhaul, that they'll be fixed -- maybe by 10.5.3.

Meanwhile even Apple enthusiast sites are suggesting anyone with a life should wait for 10.5.1. My friend Andrew, who is usually blessed by the OS gods, spent the weekend rebuilding his laptop post a 10.5.0 update and he grudgingly admits his core apps are significantly less stable under 10.5.0 than they were under 10.4.10.

Personally, I'm thinking more of 10.5.2 -- and I like 10.5.

Update: this is part of why I like 10.5:

...In the screenshot above, I've scaled the remote computer (a Mac running Tiger and Apple Remote Desktop) to an extreme degree, but it's still fully functional and surprisingly usable even at this tiny size. The preferences dialog in the front belongs to the Screen Sharing application, as does the toolbar with handy "Send to/from Clipboard" buttons on it.

The Screen Sharing application is hidden in /System/Library/CoreServices, but can be launched manually and used to connect to another computer if you know the IP address. You'll be prompted for a username and password, with the option to explicitly request permission to share the screen...

I was disappointed to read that 10.5 screen sharing was VNC based. This scaling stuff is not part of any VNC client I've tried (and none of them worked well on OS X anyway). Sounds like there's more to it.

WiTopia personalVPN

We all know that it's trivial to intercept unencrypted 802.11 wireless communications.

Happily most cafe net sessions are too boring to interest the average hacker, but there are always kids with too much time on their hands. So I'd been thinking for a while I needed a personal VPN solution.

Personal VPN also comes in handy if you ever have to deal with an overly aggressive "webwasher" type environment -- the encrypted communications goes through a remote proxy, so if the proxy isn't blocked (big if), and if the right ports are open (bigger if) then you can bypass the "washing".

I decided to do a 30 day trial of WiTopia personalVPN. I paid the $40 for the one year subscription, I have 30 days to get my money back. I picked them because Tidbits recommended them as an OS X friendly solution. Their web site is improving quickly, a week ago it was pretty confusing. There are basically two products you get when you sign up for the personal VPN:
  • PPTP VPN: This is built into OS X, though in 10.4 it works through the peculiar "Internet Connect" application rather than the network preferences (where I looked for it). Easy to use, requires no additional software. This style of VPN is disdained by experts for some security issues, but of course it only has to be better than nothing -- which is what everyone else at the Hotspot is using. It's the old "park next to the better bicycle" theory.
  • SSL VPN: This requires a client installation.
The SSL VPN is their core product, the PPTP is a bit of a freebie. This is what they say about it (the writing could use some work, they are confusing IPsec and SSL VPNs, I think they left out a sentence somewhere):
... With the widely praised openVPN™ software at its core, our service deploys a 128 bit encrypted SSL VPN using the powerful and efficient Blowfish™ cipher. Depending on other factors, higher levels of encryption may simply bog down your processor without providing the security you might think. Versus an SSL VPN, PPTP based VPNs have their limitations and have been shown to have vulnerabilities. IPsec VPNs are superior to PPTP but suffer from tremendous complexity that can affect reliability and security. [jf - this is where they need to say they took a 3rd approach -- SSL VPN]... 
Lastly, we set up our own Secure Certificate Authority and "sign" your unique public key during setup. The private key is never released and resides on our secure systems. These must match before the service will activate and no one can ever see your data without possessing both keys This adds a step in the setup process, and was additional work on our part, but is superior to static or shared key approaches. Beware of any VPN service that skips it. [jf: The certificate security means WiTopia has to create a custom install for each customer. So if you want to use SSL VPN on OS X and XP you have a problem.] ... 
personalVPN™ is not just a VPN service. It's an Internet privacy solution. Beyond encrypting all your data to our gateway, we exchange your IP address for one of ours. To everyone on the Internet you are an anonymous user whose traffic originates in our data center....
So far I'm sticking with the PPTP solution. It took only a minute to setup on OS X, though I had to run Help to figure out how to do it. I haven't tried the SSL VPN because I don't like installing this type of software if I can help it. It runs too close to the hardware and is often flaky.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Apple has built Open Document support into the OS

I wonder if Nisus will now be able to import and export OASIS Open Document files -- at least on 10.5:
Matt Legend Gemmell » Blog Archive » Get rid of your code with Leopard

...The text systems deals with OASIS Open Document files and ECMA Office Open XML files, and a newer version of Word files too, so you can add a few more Import and Export options to your app for free....
Nice to see ODF support at the OS level.

It's silly to install 10.5.0: exhibit 10

Honest, I'm going to stop posting these soon.
Please read: Information on events deleted from Google Calendar - Spanning Sync | Google Groups

...upon upgrading to Leopard and syncing for the first time, Apple Sync Services sends a 'delete' command for every event in every calendar being sunc...
OS X 10.5.0 is a big update. Only hobbyists and professionals should install it. Nobody else should install anything prior to 10.5.1. The truly wise will wait for 10.5.3.

The bad habits of two of my favorite OS X applications: They use Unsanity's Application Enhancer framework

Two of my favorite OS X applications are iPhoto Library Manager and AudioHijack pro.

Alas, both, I've recently discovered, use Unsanity's Application Enhance framework (APE) hack.

I don't recall either app ever providing "informed consent" of use of this hack -- though I think AudioHijack might have.

I still shiver when I remember the history of DOS TSRs (terminate and stay resident), and APE is the same sort of thing -- a way to hack applications that are already running [1]. The inevitable result of such hackery is that the applications become less stable [2].

A less obvious result of this kind of bad habit is that a major OS update can break big time:

Unsanity urges customers to make sure APE is current before upgrading to Leopard - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... has been the implication of Unsanity's Application Enhancer (APE) framework in some upgrade problems. APE has a long and sometimes controversial history, with some developers swearing BY it (Audio Hijack, for example, uses APE to enable the "Instant Hijack" functionality) and other developers swearing AT it (APE's ability to modify other applications at runtime, necessary to enable some tools, can also make app debugging more difficult)...

... Rosyna of Unsanity sent out an urgent email alert to mailing list subscribers (reproduced in whole below) recommending that APE be updated to the current version (2.03) prior to upgrading to Leopard, lest badness ensue...

The badness is that Leopard blue-screens on install. Archive and Install avoids the problem and that's what Apple is now advising blue-screen victims to do. It's what I prefer to do myself in any case.

One good thing about 10.5, even for those of us waiting for 10.5.1, is that it's going to kill APE. IPLM's author reported that he can do 99% of what he needs to do without hacking 10.5, and I think the same is true for AHP (Instant Hijack isn't essential).

I do wish they'd never used it to begin with.

[1] In the old days only one application could run at a time, so the TSR was simultaneously hacking the OS and the application. Excuse me while I try to forget.

[2] Incidentally, Microsoft's sanctioned Outlook plug-ins seems to have a rather similar effect on XP and Outlook stability!

Update 10/29/07: John Gruber has more details. Logitech's "control center" turns out to be a very bad APE offender. I still think it was a bad idea for IPLM to use an APE hack, but at least it was in a good cause -- getting around Apple's missing iPhoto functionality. Logitech had no excuse at all. Friends don't let friends buy Logitech.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gmail won't let me email a zipped USB driver

I wanted to send someone a USB driver for an obsolete i500 phone. Gmail wouldn't let me! It said I couldn't send a zip containing an "executable file" for "security reasons".

Hmm. Maybe I really don't want to make Gmail my primary email environment!

I added an extension of .txt and Gmail let me send the email.

I don't like this.

OS X 10.5 Leopard: Cries of the Damned

Apple's Installation and Setup support forum for 10.5 (Leopard) now rings with the cries of the damned. The inevitable "wait for 10.5.1?" posts are appearing, but Apple is killing them within an hour of posting. (I tested this by commenting on one of them. It was gone an hour later).

This is not at all surprising. We see it even with only minor updates, much less a major OS transition. Apple is very secretive, and secrecy is the enemy of quality. Sure, the Vista update is much worse, but Apple controls the hardware and Microsoft doesn't. Given control of hardware Apple should have much smoother OS transitions, but the secrecy is lethal.

Most people will do fine. A number will lose all their data. They ought to scream, but I don't think Apple will change its ways.

Overall 10.5 looks to be a very promising update. Unless you're buying a new machine, an update like this is strictly for the foolish, the prepared geek (two backups, different methods, one a bootable image for quick restore), and those blessed by the Gods of Apple (Andrew).

I expect to be pretty happy with 10.5.1 and very happy with 10.5.4.

I wouldn't install 10.5.0 if you paid me.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Leopard spots: what's bad

Doing the Leopard Moan. Great stuff by Neuberg.

Personally I think Apple ditched Classic because it was an enormous security hole and a bother to QA, but I love Matt's comments on FrameMaker. Progress in software is not linear.

How to install a major OS X update

Daring Fireball: I Believe in Murphy's Law has the lowdown. I'm willing to do a non-bootable image myself, but otherwise I completely agree. Conservative yes, safe also.

Of course I don't install 10.5.0 and he will. So if you're like me and waiting for 10.5.1 you can ease up a bit.

Shure QuietSpot Headset: just perfect

Here's what I wrote about my Shure QuietSpot Headset for Mobile Phones with Inline Microphone
I've used earsets (headsets) that cost twice as much. I've used earsets that cost 1/3 as much. I've used Bluetooth arsets (don't bother).

Nothing compares. These are simply as good as it gets. Simple. Great sound. Great fit. Compact. Rugged. Reliable.

I own two pairs. I wouldn't mind three pairs.
I'm a demanding consumer. There are a lot of products I don't like, but every so often I come across something that's perfect at what it does.

This product has a 5 star Amazon average rating.

Shades of the singularity: Canon SD 1000 for $170

Amazon is selling the Canon SD1000 today for $170.

We live in a weird world. There's all kinds of cheap worthless junk sold for low prices, and then then there's something like this. It's a genuine marvel of technology, and at least the early versions were actually manufactured in Japan. Yes, like the old days.

Today it's selling for the cost of a big date.

I just want to say that's weird. I think I'll buy my wife this for her birthday and give our perfectly decent Canon SD 600 to the kids.

Update 11/6/07: It's made in Japan! Still, just like the SD 600 before it. It feels like an Apple product. Compared to the SD 600 it uses the same battery, charger and SD memory card. It fits the SD 600 case - somewhat thinner and very slightly longer. I turned off the 'face focus' feature as it seems a bit slow to focus lock, I need to test it more with different focus parameters. I prefer the raised controls of the SD 600 to the perfectly flat buttons on the SD 1000, but the SD 1000's camera/video/review toggle seems less likely to move accidentally.

Update 8/25/08: Not quite the singularity. At 10 months of age the focus motor broke.

Leopard and file sharing: but can you share the Shared Folder?

Glenn Fleishman of Tidbits has a new eBook out on Leopard File Sharing and he gives us some highlights here: Leopard Simplifies Sharing.

I am almost ready to hope that OS X users can now SHARE THE #$@% shared folder [1]. Yes, it's true, for years OS X has had a "Shared Folder" on every drive used to share items between users, but that folder couldn't be share with network clients

Just fixing that ridiculous design flaw would justify half of the upgrade price to 10.5. I've asked Fleishman to address that question, I hope he'll update his post.

The more I read about Leopard, the more I realize I might have to admit to being ... errr .... wrong. When Leopard slipped its dates, I figured they were going to have to slip again from October 2007 to April 2008 -- or that the October 2007 release would be pretty crummy.

I still have no intention of messing with 10.5.0, but the early news is damned impressive. It now seems likely 10.5.1, when it comes out in a month or so, will be a truly large leap forward -- maybe the biggest release of OS X since 10.1 made it usable (ok, so 10.4 on Intel was impressive too).

It would be funny if the 10.5 release were to turn out have been under-hyped given all the flack Apple gets for its PR machine.

Update 10/28/07: Yes, you can.

Update 5/30/08: I finally upgraded to 10.5.3. There's no problem with sharing the Shared folder, in fact I think I can share any folder. We haven't been able to do that since MacOS 9.

[1] See:
OS X: Creating a "parents only" shared folder and Odd OS X bug: can't share the shared folder

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Generating Sharepoint-friendly URLs (links) using Microsoft Access

This is damned obscure, but it's not documented and I figured it out, so I'll stick it up here.

Maybe it will help someone.

Microsoft Excel, Access, and Sharepoint  2007 (latter is really SQL Server dressed up) all have an implied datatype called the "hyperlink". It's not well documented, I don't think Excel 2007 and Access 2007 implement the hyperlink quite the same way.

Excel has a "hyperlink" function that will generate a hyperlink from a string and a URL, but when I pasted that into a hyperlink field in SP 2007 bad things happened and I had to power cycle by XP box. (typical XP behavior)

On the other hand I couldn't figure out how to generate hyperlinks in Access 2003 or 2007. Here's the trick, and they do work in SP 2007. I assume one column holds the URL and the other the text displayed in the UI.

1. Concatenate URL and text fields (+ operator in Access) to a string of this sort: "friendly name#"

2. Write out the results to a table.

3. Change the datatype of the column containing "friendly name#" to "HYPERTEXT".

Now you have the hypertext URLs.

Link to your target SP 2007 list (table really), and join on your identifier, then do an Update query to stuff your hypertext URLs into the appropriate Sharepoint field.

I'm sure there's a better way using VisualBasic for Access, but Microsoft's approach to VBA gives me hives. It's a total mess, I'd much rather spend time learning Objective C or Python.

Gmail gets IMAP: Hallelujah!

I usually try not to blog about something everyone's screaming from the rooftops, but this is genuinely exciting: Gmail gets IMAP - Download Squad.

DS was reporting on a rumor, but they note it's official now.

I moved all my email services to Gmail lately after my longtime ISP, VISI.COM, began messing up in a big way. It took a bit of tweaking to get it all working, but it's been fine ever since. I'd have moved long ago if Gmail had IMAP.

Now I'll be able to move my wife's email to Gmail -- she likes using OS X and she works from 3 machines. Until now I had her on VISI's IMAP service.

Big news of the day.

So, can Google's long delayed file server be all that far away?

Update: Good tip on use with
Update 10/25: This news post has more setup tip links.
Update 11/16/07: Still more configuration advice. I still haven't gotten around to doing this, mostly because my current setup works! Still, one of these days ...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The end of the Storm worm: interesting lessons

PC World has an educational article on the Storm worm, which is now fading from the scene. Emphases mine.
PC World - Storm Worm Now Just a Squall

... Brandon Enright, a network security analyst at UC San Diego, has been tracking Storm since July and said that, despite the intense publicity that the network of infected computers has received, it's actually been shrinking steadily and is presently a shadow of its former self. On Saturday, he presented his findings at the Toorcon hacker conference in San Diego.

Storm is not really a computer worm. It's a network of computers that have been infected via malicious e-mail messages, and are centrally controlled via the Overnet P-to-P protocol. Enright said he has developed software that crawls through the Storm network and he thinks that he has a pretty accurate estimate of how big Storm really is.

Some estimates have put Storm at 50 million computers, a number that would give its controllers access to more processing power than the world's most powerful supercomputer. But Enright said that the real story is significantly less terrifying. In July, for example, he said that Storm appeared to have infected about 1.5 million PCs, about 200,000 of which were accessible at any given time....

... Since July, it's been downhill for Storm. That's when antivirus vendors began stepping up their tracking of Storm variants and got a lot better at identifying and cleaning up infected computers, Enright said.

Then on September 11, Microsoft added Storm detection (Microsoft's name for Storm's components is Win32/Nuwar) into its Malicious Software Removal tool, which ships with every Windows system. Overnight, Storm infections dropped by another 20 percent.

Today, Enright said that Storm is about one-tenth of its former size. His most recent data counts 20,000 infected PCs available at any one time, out of a total network of about 160,000 computers. "The size of the network has been falling pretty rapidly and pretty consistently," he said.

Still, Storm has had a remarkably successful run. It's called Storm because it first popped up in mid-January in spam e-mails that offered late-breaking information on powerful storms that had been battering Europe. Users who clicked on the "Full Story.exe" or "Video.exe" attachments that accompanied the spam were infected by malicious software, making them part of the Storm network.

These machines were then used to send out more spam and launch attacks against other computers. The recent MP3 stock spam that was first spotted earlier this week was sent out by the Storm network, Enright said.

Storm was effective because its creators were really good at creating messages that victims would feel compelled to click, Enright said. In its first few days, it managed to infect more than 300,000 computers, making it the worst malware outbreak since 2005. Its creators have since been masters at creating timely messages for their spam and have also had success getting victims to click on fake e-greeting cards.

The Storm network itself is constantly changing, and has used a variety of technologies that have made it an interesting phenomenon to study. In addition to the peer to peer network, it has used rootkit software to disguise its presence on the PC and a server-switching technique called "fast-flux," which makes the Storm servers harder to find on the network.

It's also developed some interesting ways of keeping researchers like Enright at bay. "If you're a researcher and you hit the pages hosting the malware too much... there is an automated process that automatically launches a denial of service [attack] against you," he said. This attack, which floods the victim's computer with a deluge of Internet traffic, knocked part of the UC San Diego network offline when it first struck.

Lately Storm has been responsible for a large quantity of "pump and dump" spam, which tries to temporarily boost the price of penny stocks. But one area that does not seem to be of interest to Storm's creators is identity theft. "Believe it or not, credit card numbers aren't worth that much money," Enright said. "It's much better to make money... via pump and dump."
It's particularly interesting that credit card numbers aren't worth stealing. Is it because there's a glut of numbers on the market, or is identify theft becoming harder?

I'm also impressed that Microsoft could knock 20% of the Storm bots offline with a single update.

Overall, this is very encouraging news. I wonder how profitable the Storm Worm really was. If these pump and dump schemes really worked that speculator behavior would come to neutralize them. (Speculators detecting early versions of the email could preempt the strategy of the scheme owner.)

Hornby on the history of Palm

Tom Hornby has written the Early History of Palm. I remember GRiD, the Zoomer and GeoWorks (wonderful software OS), but I didn't know of Hawkins role in those products.

I'm most interested in the essays to come. Will Hornby identify the critical role of Outlook's data model, and the dominance of Exchange server, in killing the Palm?

Friday, October 19, 2007

OS X 10.5 and MacTel: what the Firefox bug list tells us

Firefox has been updated for 10.5. The list iof what doesn't work in 10.5, and even in 10.4, is an interesting example of how long it's going to take to finish the Intel transition
Mozilla Firefox Release Notes

* On OS X 10.5 (Leopard), there are known problems with some media plugins as well as Add-ons that contain binary components. Also, the tabs in Preferences > Advanced will not render properly.
* The "Close Other Tabs" action on the shortcut menu of a tab can fail with an error when more than 20 tabs are open.
* Some users have reported problems viewing Macromedia Flash content on Intel Mac computers. To work around this problem, users can remove or move the PowerPC version of "Flash Player Enabler.plugin from /Library/Internet Plug-Ins.
* Java does not run on Intel Core processors under Rosetta.
* There is no Talkback on Intel-based Macs when running natively or under Rosetta. The Apple Crash report program should launch in the event of application crashes.
OS X 10.5 radically changed the graphics layer, so we should expect lots of rendering issues for some time. I suspect that Safari 3.0 will be a better choice on 10.5 that Firefox until Firefox 3.0 comes out. That should end the Rosetta dependence too.

Interesting note on Java. Client side Java is now hopping along on one leg ....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Leopard breaks AppleWorks, what about Classic

Leopard, aka OS X 10.5, breaks AppleWorks:
Macintouch: Leopard

....For anyone using AppleWorks, convert your files before you do the migration to Leopard. AppleWorks will not load in Leopard. Some files will open in iWork & Numbers, but others will even break the new programs. Large files seem to be the issue, and converting to Excel or Word formats before the upgrade would be a smart move..."
This is a bit surprising. I wonder what other OS X applications will break with 10.5.

I'm not too surprised though, Apple has always had a somewhat cavalier attitude towards breaking applications. Too bad they don't match that with support for old file formats -- including their own dam$%ed file formats.

Which reminds me -- I wonder if it breaks Classic? Classic won't run on Intel of course, but I run it on my G5 iMac with OS X 10.4.10. There's still not much in the way of children's games or educational software for OS X [1] -- and I sometimes fire up MORE 3.1 or FullWrite Professional to open old files.

Realistically, I should wait until February until I update my G5, or until iPhone 2.0 makes me update. January, after 10.5.1 and updates to Retrospect client and a bunch of other apps I rely on, will be when I update the MacBook.

Overall I'm looking forward to 10.5.1 however. There are many things on the feature list I really want (fully supported screen sharing, remote control, iChat, Apple's new version of "Outlook" called, the signed application model, the memory map randomization, built-in PDF manipulation, better scanning support, etc, etc.) This looks like an upgrade for power users, developers, and for the support of good things to come.

[1] Really, there's not much in the way of interesting educational software or children's games on Windows either. That market basically went to Nintendo. There's more support for older software on XP than OS X though.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Clever exploit of Apple's OS transition

Apple will provide $10 upgrades to 10.5 if you've just bought a 10.4 machine. This can be translated into a clever exploit ....
Macs-imizing your Leopard upgrade:

... If the bottom line is the bottom line, the lowest retail price for Leopard is probably $109 at Amazon. However, for a few hundred dollars more, you can get a new Mac now and a copy of OS X in the mail later that you are ethically and legally bound to install on that purchased Mac. The question then becomes: which Mac?...
The Mini is a lovely machine. My mothers has run for over a year with essentially no maintenance. I check in on it every six months or so (she lives pretty far away).

I wonder if a Mini will run OS X 10.5 server? Then you could buy the mini, buy server, put server on the Mini and that $10 10.5 goes to ...

Mindjet MindManager: If it could only do acyclic graphs

Mindjet MindManager is "mind mapping software". It lets users create an outline (hierarchy) that can render as a two-dimensional layout of boxes connected by lines.

MindManager's strengths are its Microsoft Office  integration, its marketing, its attractive output and its corporate orientation. It comes in XP/Vista and OS X versions, the latter is a true OS X app but lacks some functionality. I've written about MindManager before; functionally it's similar to the much older Inspiration but it's a lot prettier.

Pretty counts.

MindManager has one glaring defect -- from a geek point of view. It can only do trees - strict hierarchies. No networks, no matrices, no directed acyclic graphs. No inheritance.

So a box (node) can't belong to to two or more branches (arcs).

This is a pain. Any reasonably complex domain representation needs a node to have multiple memberships.

I think the UI for this is not too hard. This is basically what a "Favorite" does in XP, or a "shortcut" does in OS X. The file lives in a single place in the file system hierarchy, but a reference can appear in another place.

Symantec More 3.1 did something similar with its outlines. You could have a branch appear in more than one place. Multiple inheritance in other words. [1]

MindManager could allow users to click on a box (node) and create a "favorite" that could be dragged and dropped anywhere. They don't even need to implement full references, it would be ok if clicking on a 'favorite' merely took one to the "true" object. (Symantec MORE 3.1 did the full include model.)

If some wants to displace MindManager from my desktop, all they need to do is allow me to model an acyclic graph, or even network. Trees are very 19th century.

Ok, so they have to be pretty as well.

[1] So it's not patentable guys. It's been done.

From PLATO to OS X iCal 3.0 - an illustrated history of Calendaring and Personal Information Management

AppleInsider usually publishes Apple news and rumors with a bit of analysis, so I was bemused by today's Prince McLean article. He's written a brief illustrated history of the past 24 years of calendar-oriented personal information management, including screen shots from Agenda, Notes, MeetingMaker, Organizer and more.

This guy is serious about the PIM/calendar world. He may even be nuttier about this than I am now, though in my heyday I'd have gone a few rounds with him.

The article is full of insider tips, like this one ...

AppleInsider | Road to Mac OS X Leopard: iCal 3.0 [Page 3]

... Even home users that have no need for group calendaring will benefit from the new server-side improvements to iCal. That's because Apple didn't just build its iCal Server to fill out a feature check list. It has also begun using it company wide as its own corporate scheduling software in place of Meeting Maker. That means Apple employees are also now using the iCal client, and the result is that iCal itself has progressed rapidly...

Hey, we definitely need group calendaring in our home.  It's not just for Apple. Eventually we'll have five users (six if you count Kateva, but dogs don't care for calendars) on five machines with five calendars.

Now I'm thinking about buying a Mac Mini (Nano?) and running it headless with 10.5 server on it and a big external drive. I've looked over the 10.5 features, and I think Apple spec'd 10.5 from this blog (hey, it's theoretically possible) -- though I also think it will be very buggy for the next six months...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Technical comments on 3G limitations

So Jobs wasn't simply exercising his reality distorter ...

Why Apple's iPhone Doesn't Need 3G - Seeking Alpha

...High bandwidth networks drain batteries. Power consumption of any chip increases according to the frequency squared. That means if you want your network to go 10 times faster, the chip inside your phone managing that network consumes 100 times the power that a slower chip would (It's not quite that simple because of different signaling techniques, but the overall principle still holds). This is why Steve Jobs has decried the power consumption of 3G networks -- that speedy signaling actually matters in a battery-powered device. So why don't European users see this power-draining effect today with their phones? Well, check out the Nokia message boards and you'll find that they do experience some of the effect, but that effect is diminished by the fact that Europe has a much higher density of cell towers than the US does. And since cell phones decrease their radio power output when signal strength is high, the frequency effect of 3G transmission is partially offset by the fact they can use lower power amplifier settings for their radios....

I suspect the truth is more complex, I'm don't think 802.11g is really 25 times more power hungry than 802.11b for example. Maybe 2-3 times, but not 25. All the same, I do believe there's relationship between energy costs and throughput, particularly if the underlying protocol is computationally demanding.

The iPhones bandwidth issues are not a part of my 9 essential iPhone requirements list [1]. I'm much more concerned about using the phone PIM features when there's no network available at all.

[1] I see Apple has addressed item #8. So they only have 8 more to go and they make their big sale.

Why I'll buy Leopard - next January

Nobody seems to care about this, but Apple cares enough to rank it fourth on their list of new Finder features, right after the also incredibly great "back to my mac" feature.
Apple - Mac OS X Leopard - Features - 300+ New Features

Back to My Mac
Connect to any of your Mac computers at home from any Mac on the Internet. Your home computers appear in the shared section of the sidebar. Just click and you’re in.

Instant Screen Sharing from the Finder
Start an interactive screen sharing session with other Macs on your network. Just select the Mac from your sidebar and (if authorized) you can see and control the Mac as if you were right in front of it. Change a system preference, publish an iPhoto library, or add a new playlist to iTunes."
This is going to hurt, because I'm sure Back to My Mac will require a .Mac account. So I'll be buying Leopard for two machines and getting a family .Mac account. Requirements, btw, are well in the scope of my G5 iMac.

10.5 will, of course, break EMC Retrospect Pro (the latest version actually works) and I'll need an update to my VMWare windows emulator. Happily the Retrospect server runs on my ancient XP box so I just need the client update.

I won't, of course, touch anything until 10.5.1 and until both Retrospect and VMWare's updates have been on the market for at least 1 month. I'm guessing January 2008 at the earliest.

I know Andrew will take the arrows for me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Google/Picasa Web Album uploader for iPhoto 7

Google could have done a much better communication job over the past two months, but there's news of an updated Picasa Web Album uploader.

The web site says they now support iPhoto 4 to 7; the version commitment is a much requested improvement. iPhoto 7 comes with iLife '08, the blog posting here calls it iPhoto '08 (emphases mine):
Today's release of version 1.1 of the Picasa Web Albums Uploaders adds support for Apple's new iPhoto '08... this release installs and updates via Google Updater to ensure that you are running the latest version.

While our first release used a private API to talk with the Picasa Web Albums server, the new version is built on the public Google Data API interfaces and our Objective-C GData Library. This will make it easier for us to keep up with Picasa Web Albums' new features. For example, the iPhoto export plug-in now can convert keywords in iPhoto to tags in Picasa Web Albums.

Our goal is to keep the Uploaders as quick, straightforward utilities that make Picasa Web Albums readily available to Mac users. You can give us feedback about them at the Picasa Help discussion group.
The last bit almost sounds like an apology. The language of the post is a bit ambiguous, but it sounds like they've updated both the standalone OS X and the iPhoto plug-in uploaders. The Keyword to Tag conversion is much appreciated.

Update 10/27/07: Unfortunately, there's a significant regression in the new uploader. The old uploader concatenated the iPhoto Name and Description fields. The new uploader maps the Name to PWA caption and ignores Description. This behavior should be configurable, but, more importantly, Google needs to open source the uploader so users can configure it.

Update 10/27/07b: Someone who seems pretty knowledgeable responded to my Google Groups post. Their was real thought put into the design, though I fear the thought was misguided. It actually uses the Name field value if it's been changed, otherwise it uses the Description field value. So the behavior is going to seem unpredictable to many users. The author clearly is not an iPhoto expert, or he'd have known that Batch Update makes it trivially easy to set the Name value to a date or meaningful string with counter; so that edits to comments are an easy extension. This needs to be fixed.

Disposing of an old Apple Computer, Palm's "any mobile" recycling program, the Blackberry exchange and quality CRTs for the elderly tags: , , , ,

TUAW has a great article on donating and discarding an old Mac: How to safely dispose of an old Mac. I didn't know Apple would accept an old machine and/or monitor upon purchase of a new machine, so one strategy is to keep the junk in the attic until you buy a new one.

Which reminds me of a post I never finished. Palm may be a vampire leaching off pale customers and forgotten innovation, but they are trying to look less bad by indirect means:

Brighthand: Get Any Mobile Device Recycled for Free

... Palm's recycling program is completely free -- that includes the cost of shipping -- and takes cellphones and handhelds in any condition, from any brand and also any old accessories that go with it.

All consumers have to do is download a pre-paid mailing label from Palm's web site, or pick one up at a Palm retail store. This service is apparently only available in the United States....

The Brighthand article has links to directions for erasing PDA data.

BlackBerry has yet another option. They'll not only recycle your old phone/smartphone, they'll give you "fair market value" credit towards your new BlackBerry:

BlackBerry Trade Up Program

Take your existing wireless device and turn it into a brand new, slim and stylish BlackBerry® smartphone. The BlackBerry Trade Up Program gives you the fair market value of your existing wireless device to use towards the purchase of the BlackBerry smartphone of your choice.

If your cell phone actually works many local groups will take them for 911 calling (women's shelters, etc).

On the other hand, nobody wants pre-XP computer donations. Don't bother, that's a purely recycling project. A good CRT can still find a home, especially for people with visual impairments who suffer from the fixed-pitch LCD problem. I think a group that works with the visually impaired might be interested in those, or look for an elderly computer user.

Ok, so I've done my insignificant part for the environment. Now if I can only figure out a way to get rid of all those plastic baggies ...

Friday, October 12, 2007

When a feature really is a feature: iChat AV's mirror mode

Today I found that the Canon ZR-850 and the SONY DCR-HC96 camcorders (SONY has to be in its cradle), when connected to a MacBook with a firewire cable, will produce fabulous iChat video. I had thought this capability had vanished!

It's just what we need for our workgroup videoconferencing. I tested on printed material, and I had no trouble reading the print on the display ... except ... (emphases mine):

Audio/Video conferencing -, Mac OS X vs. Windows XP

... iChat AV has a number of niceties. It appropriately flips local video left to right, so your own image will behave just like a mirror. When you plug in an iSight and open the shutter, iChat launches automatically. If you're listening to music in iTunes, it will stop when you accept an audio or video invitation. Any currently playing DVD video will either pause or mute, depending on your DVD Player settings.

iChat supports video-conferencing with up to 4 people (provided you meet the requirements - a minimum of a dual 800 MHz G4 to participate, and a dual 1 GHz G4 to initiate a chat session). Rather than having separate windows for each person, each participant is displayed in one window with their video streams angled to create the impression of sitting around a conference table. There's even a reflection below each video stream - very slick...

UPDATE: I deleted the portion where I then ranted about this mirror image stuff, because posts on Apple's Discussion forum confirmed - the recipient sees the writing correctly.

Also, once we had the results of this test, a search on 'camcorder' 'iChat' and 'conferencing' produced some helpful references. They're mostly familiar to me, I'd just thought there were no compatible camcorders left on the market.

Alt-click to download in Firefox

Alt-Click in Firefox to download the linked item.

Apparently, this is so old and well known it's almost never remarked on. I even vaguely recall when shift-click did this, maybe in Mozilla.

I can't be the only one that finds this a great time saver though ...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Scanning old snapshots: My current workflow

Recently I wrote about using OS X "Image Capture" for photo Scanning. I've gotten some praise for the results, so I figured I'd detail my current scanning workflow.

My goal is fairly quick image acquisition of about 3,000 low quality 3x5 and 4x6 prints. Speed is more important than quality. The very best images, probably less than fifty, will be rescanned using a high quality Nikon Film scanner. After scanning is completed the prints will be discarded but I will keep the negatives in a single large binder.

Scan output is, for now, manged in iPhoto. If Aperture ever allowed us to edit date metadata I'd use Aperture. [foul language censored]

I thought I'd be doing this using a sheet feeder, dropping the prints in and returning hours later. I can't find a decent one for working with prints; the only one I can find is the SnapScan and they've historically not imaged prints. I'm using an old Epson 1660 Photo scanner, but if my secret weapon continues working I'll invest in the Epson V700 -- if I do that I might try bulk film scanning instead.

My secret weapon is the combination of an 8 yo with a Lego habit, OS X "Image Capture", and Aperture post-processing. Ben is willing to work for low wages [1] and Image Capture is simple enough he can go through 20-40 scans while I work on an adjacent machine.

He scans at 400 dpi with no adjustment and the images are output as TIFF. The results at this point are mediocre.

When Ben is done I drop the TIFFs into Aperture and optimize one image: auto-level, sharpening, noise reduction and contrast enhancement with some mild color saturation adjustment. I then apply the set to all images. (I think I can save it as a standard setting but I haven't done that yet. iPhoto 8 can also be used in a similar way, but iPhoto 7 would be very inefficient.)

A few minutes later Aperture is finished. I quickly review the results but usually I'm done with the initial work. I then crop the images fairly extensively. Lastly I export as 98% JPEG and I delete the TIFFs.

The JPEGs are renamed using 'A Better Finder Rename', since Image Capture adds a counter to the string "Scan" I rename "Scan " to YYMMDD_RollNumber_# where # is the counter produced by Image Capture. YYMMDD is based on the date of the roll, and Roll_Number comes from the prints. The roll number binds the roll of JPEGs with the set of prints with the set of negatives. I don' t capture the actual print or negative number, the roll ID is good enough for my purposes.

I then drop the JPEGs into iPhoto and add ratings, date estimates, and comments. I choose one date for a range of prints and add it with a 1 minute separation using iPhoto's batch update. The iPhoto roll information includes the YYMMDD_RollNumber identifier. The five star prints will later be replaced by VueScan negative scans from a Nikon CoolScan V.

The resulting images are impressively better looking, on screen, than the original prints.

[1] Amazingly this is legal for one's own child. I should mention that once he can do this without my help his wages will rise to whatever he can get from the neighbors for their scans. Of course I could start charging him for the scanner...

Update: This article on scanning with Aperture is pretty good. Note that Aperture has a big date problem. You can't revise the acquisition date. True, you can set a date in the IPTC extended image creation date field, but Aperture mostly ignores that field value. I use Aperture for editing, but iPhoto for archiving.

Microsoft's Access 2003 to Access 2007 animated reference guide (Flash)

Via Microsoft's Access blog: a flash app that shows where an Access 2003 command moved to in Access 2007: Interactive: Access 2003 to Access 2007 command reference guide. There's also a link to documentation.

I'm not a fan of the ribbon bar, though I suspect I could come up with a defense for it. It provides zero value to me when using Access 2007, in fact in most ways Access 2007 is either a weak improvement or a regression. The ribbon bar works a lot better in Word, and Excel seems to have mostly ignored it.

I have to give credit though, this is one amazing Flash tutorial. I couldn't figure out where "compact and repair" went to, this tutorial answered my question immediately. On the other hand, it didn't tell me where the dependencies feature went. I think that's supposed to be resolved by the Access 2007 table/query view, but that appears to be broken for now. maybe I should try it again

Recording Artist: Crazy is one of the best introductions to the value proposition I've read. I've tried them off and on again, this suggests I should go for another try.

Why we need something better than HFS+: bit errors are cumulative

I hope this analysis is not correct, but if it is then there's no debating that we need an HFS+ replacement. The geeks I read generally favor ZFS+, perhaps with Apple contributing improvements.

Recording Artist: ZFS Hater Redux

Here's a fairly typical Seagate drive with a capacity of ~150GB = ~1.2 x 1012 bits. The recoverable error rate is listed as 10 bits per 1012 bits. Let's put those numbers together. That means that if you read the entire surface of the disk, you'll typically get twelve bits back that are wrong and which a retry could have fixed.

Yes, really. Did you catch the implications of that? Silent single-bit errors are happening today. They happen much more often at high-end capacities and utilizations, and we often get lucky because some types of data (video, audio, etc) are resistant to that kind of single-bit error. But today's high end is tomorrow's medium end, and the day after tomorrow's low end. This problem is only going to get worse.

Worse, bit errors are cumulative. If you read and get a bit error, you might wind up writing it back out to disk too. Oops! Now that bit error just went from transient to permanent.

Still think end-to-end data integrity isn't worth it?

I wonder how NTFS compares? Too bad it's not open source :-)!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ecto - the first good blogging app for OS X?

I've tried several OS X blogging tools, but none of them compared to Windows Live Writer. This post, however, was authored in Ecto 3 beta from, and it comes close to WLW. It even supports OS X services! The link to the "alpha" version in the news blog actually downloads the beta version, I'm on 3.0b2.

I'll have more to say on Ecto as I test it, but it's great to see this emerging.

Outlook and automatic task lookup based on email subject

Microsoft Outlook is a great, shambling, brute of an application. In the fold of Office it has obliterated all traces of its betters, it stands unchallenged atop a mountain of the digital dead.

The beast is encrusted with the weapons of forgotten wars. Many barely work. Outlook 2003 [1] still lacks a cross-PST accessible object identifier, so neither Microsoft nor developers can create a robust object link. Sorting a categories view still undoes the view settings -- a bug dating back the 90s that was only fixed in Outlook 2007. Outlook 2003 tags (categories) are still stored in the registry and the master category list has been utterly broken since the dawn of time (happily, it can be ignored).

All the same, in a stupid and accidental sort of way, Outlook is powerful. If you can figure out where all the sharp edges are, if you learn to step around the explosive charges, if you have good backups and you know all the command line repair utilities and the caches and configuration files to periodically delete, it can be sort of tamed.

I have, over the course of many years of trial and pain, figured out how to make the combination of Outlook and Windows Desktop Search work. Yes, it periodically blows up in a very impressive fashion, but that's life with Microsoft. Only Excel is immune to this behavior.

The combination of full text search across GB PST files, the ability to effortlessly rename email subject lines, drag and drop transformation from one type (ex. email) to another (ex. task), the quick tag (category) and the ability to set metadata (category, due date) values by dragging and dropping between view "headings", the robust metadata query language and hierarchical view srtructures -- put them all together and one can painfully create a semi-stable workable PIM environment.

It only took years of work. I could write a book, indeed I've taught around a draft of such a book in my corporate life.

Apple could do far better -- if they wanted to. I don't think they want to. Microsoft could fix Outlook [1], but I sincerely doubt they care. There will never be a challenger to Outlook on a Microsoft platform. Google now ...

Well, I can dream.

Which comes, at last, to what I want.

We all know that managing work by email is the road to damnation. Work must be managed to tasks, which in Outlook are created by renaming subject lines [2] then dragging and dropping email to the task icon. Tasks get priorities, and depending on priorities they may be assigned due dates, calendar slots, and category attributes.

The process of creating these relationships between task, email and appointment could all be made much more fluid, but I'm asking for less than that. All I want is a quick way to find tasks based on the subject lines of incoming messages. Then I can update existing tasks rather than creating new tasks and then resolving the redundant tasks.

Put a button next to the subject line -- or on the email taskbar somewhere. When I redo the subject line [2] I'll click the button and the application will run a full text search using WDS to locate matching tasks. I'll then select the task I want.

I think an Outlook developer could probably do this. I'll pay $30 for this feature.

Go for it.

[1] I've used Outlook 2007 a bit, but we're still stuck on 2003. My sense is that 2007 has fewer bugs but probably no significant new features.

[2] I am running a one person campaign in a large publicly traded corporation for better subject lines. I think it's slowly working, but for the foreseeable future being able to effortlessly redo subject lines by clicking and typing in the subject field will remain one of Outlook's best features.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The iPhone is not all bad and Fortune's new Apple blog

Rob Griffiths has some kind things to say about the iphone: Macworld: Editors' Notes: Ten of my favorite iPhone things. He even pointed to an unconvincing, but not irrational, explanation for the stupid headphone jack.

It's a soothing story, it helps reconcile me to the bitter truth that I'm going to have to replace my wretched Palm Tungsten E2 with .... another E2. Not to mention that I will have to continue to live with my thrice cursed Motorola RAZR. [John takes another slug of scotch.] The iPhone doesn't do what I need.

I've largely given up on Apple producing the solutions for my n-of-1 market, though I have come up with a theory that suggests some missing features may have been belayed by the seven month slip of OS X 10.5. So I really need third party apps on the iPhone, because the long tail means even a market too small for Apple to notice can feed a hungry developer or two.

Which brings me to an excellent new Apple blog from (of all places) CNN/Fortune: Apple 2.0.

Apple to Open iPhone in particular smells like a leak from somewhere in Apple. It alleges that Apple is going to adopt a regulated development model for the iPhone similar to what Apple did for a few months to a year after the release of the very first Mac. I think it may have also been the development model for the Lisa. I think I could live with that, so I've another reason to hope for an iPhone in 2008 -- even if I have to buy 10.5 and spend $200 on yet another obsolete and increasingly flaky Palm device.

Continuing the theme of "things are not as bad as they seem" Apple 2.0 claims Apple's iPhone attack was manslaughter, not murder. It seems that iPhone 1.0 is held together by glue, bailing wire, and hope. Significant updates will destroy a small percentage of millions of unhacked phones, as well as a larger percentage of hacked phones. This is more plausible than one might think because Apple has a similar, but smaller, problem with OS X updates. Any major OS X update has a small, but real, risk of hosing the OS -- which is why I reboot my machines prior to an OS X update and don't touch it during the update process.

I think I've exhausted my iPhone patience now ...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Winner of Slate's bluetooth headset review

The best Bluetooth cell phone headsets settled on the "Plantronics Voyager 520". I have a cheap Motorola BT that I really dislike. If I get another one I'll have this review at hand.

An RTF surprise: 850 KB to 40 MB

One of the reasons I really like Nisus Writer Express for OS X is that it uses Rich Text Format (RTF) as its native file format. If you're going to use anything other than Word the application must have the option of using either RTF or DOC as its native file format. Nothing else is acceptable at this time, though one day perhaps the OpenOffice file format will see wider use.

Today I discovered a surprising downside of Microsoft's version of RTF.

I have an 849 KB Word 2003 DOC file that contains a fair number of screen shots. I know Word is very good at bitmap compression, so I just pasted them in. I didn't bother creating PNGs and importing them (PNG is by far the best standard file format for screen shots).

I exported to RTF from Word and the output file was 40 MB. Obviously the images have expanded a bit, about 45 fold! I assume they're now uncompressed.

By comparison I created a PDF, choosing "High Quality" for the JPGs. The resulting file was 735 KB, but the images showed some JPEG compression artifact; they were not nearly as sharp as the original Word file.

I'm very curious to see how large the file will be that Nisus creates. Can RTF support embedded PNGs? Will Nisus convert the native Word images to PNG?

Update 10/8/07: I tested using Nisus Writer Express, opening the .DOC file and saving it as RTF. Nisus' RTF version was 1.4MB, so it was about 100% larger. That's a lot better than the 4500% increase in Word's RTF version. I'm not sure what kind of compression NWE is using. Incidentally, NWE could not render Word's Table of Contents for this document, and every time it starts up it nags me about a PAY upgrade. Great way to really annoy the customer.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Fall of XP: Windows Live, Onfolio, WDS and emergence at work

I have not been happy with Apple lately. It is just as well, then, that Microsoft has chosen this time to remind me of that the "Dark Side" really means, as well as providing an interesting example of emergence at work.

I've written recently of how my work XP box has been experiencing accelerated entropic collapse. I've made progress on addressing many of the contributing factors, including realizing that Microsoft has two currently marketed products called "windows desktop search" with superficially identical interfaces but different functionality, bugs, and update schedules.

A problem remained however. Outlook was periodically crashing with varying error messages. Some of them, however, implicated Onfolio, my favorite Windows Feed Reader*. I couldn't figure out the problem, so I tried reinstalling. I downloaded the installer from the Windows Live Collection, but it quit with a meaningless "network error" (clearly a red herring). So I tried uninstalling, but the uninstall would hang shortly after asking me if I wanted to remove my feed list.

It took me a while to uninstall the damned thing. I had to restart a few times, then, when it hang, I went through every XP service running and, one at a time, I turned them off. After I was done with that it completed. I don't know if disabling all the services did the trick or if it simply timed out on the hung process and killed it, moving on.

I then reinstalled successfully from the Windows Live Toolbar "Gallery", searching for Onfolio and choosing "run" rather than download. We'll see if that works.

I simplified Onfolio's behavior as much as possible. In particular there's a "Windows Desktop Search" integration feature in Onfolio that allows WDS to search Onfolio Collections. Since I believe WDS, Onfolio and the Windows Live toolbar are all somewhat buggy, that kind of integration is just asking for trouble. I disabled it, I haven't done much with Collections anyway. I'll stop using them. Onfolio also installs an Outlook add-in I could remove, but I'm not sure if that won't cause more trouble.

Which brings me to emergence and the Fall of XP. Microsoft's Vista has not been well received. I'm sure SP1 will help a great deal, but it will still remain slow on older hardware. Microsoft really wants to migrate people off their old hardware onto new hardware and Vista. The problem is XP has been too good -- even though it's a crummy user experience compared to OS X.

The answer, of course, is to make XP unstable.

Is this a deliberate Microsoft strategy? I doubt it. It doesn't have to be deliberate. Microsoft has only to cut back on QA testing, increase the pace of software delivery (Windows LIVE), increase the rate of security patch delivery  and let nature take its entropic course. This is an emergent strategy, but it works just as well as a Machiavellian scheme.

XP will die faster than most people expect.

* OS X has great thick client feed (Atom/RSS) readers and lousy publishing tools. Windows has the world's greatest blog authoring tool and lousy feed readers. Shame.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Macros live in Access 2007

I've found Microsoft's VBA strategy to be just about incomprehensible. I don't know how anyone gets Access VBA apps to run, particularly given the profusion of obsolete class libraries, obsolete and partly implemented object models, etc. (Does 2007 have a VBA action based code generator? I can't recall. If so that would help ..)

On the other hand, Access 2003 has an incredibly archaic, and non-VBA related, "macro" facility that does work -- though it's little changed from the 1980s. To my surprise, the same facility was retained in Access 2007, and Microsoft has an article on it: Automate applications with macros in Access 2007. I use Access 2007 for some work projects, so I'll probably try these out.

What to do when a drive shows some flakiness

A friend asked what I do when a drive throws a sector error. Do I junk the drive?

The answer is "no", but I do torture it. I did a lighter version of this recently when I started hearing suspicious "whirrrrrrr - tick" sounds from a laptop drive (seek error sounds). Here's the full OS X regimen; the XP response is pretty similar (scandisk instead of Disk Utility, etc).
  1. Do a mirror backup (Carbon Copy Cloner, etc) and a Retrospect backup (that's what I use routinely).
  2. Test with Disk Utility.
  3. Run Apple's drive diagnostic in loop mode (hardware test).
  4. Reformat using a secure format (write 0s, so it write tests every sector).
  5. Test with Disk Utility.
  6. Restore from mirror backup.
  7. Test with Disk Utility.
If you start in the morning you can probably get it done within a day. Replacing the drive takes longer than a day, so even if a replacement were free this is worth doing. If the drive passes step 2 it will likely pass all the tests, so the chance of wasting a lot of time is pretty low.

See also (XP centric): Gordon's Tech: Lessons from another XP disk crash

Power a digital camera when outlets are unpredictable

Ben Long has written a good essay on remote power solutions for a dSLR, including solar options. I've asked him (comments) how he approaches backup in these settings. Does he use a battery operated CF to CF copying solution?

Monday, October 01, 2007

FriendFeed: what's the point?!

I tried FriendFeed:
Keep Track of Your Friends' Shared Items: "FriendFeed is a start-up that wants to solve this issue by letting you enter your usernames from different sites and combining all the data in a single feed that could be easily shared with someone. You can also invite your friends and subscribe to their data. The service makes a lot of sense if you use it from a social network like Facebook, so FriendFeed has a Facebook application."
I don't get it. I was able to add one of my blogs as a feed, but I could only see how to add a single blogger feed. I don't see how to delete a FriendFeed account, once you have one it's there forever.

There's probably more than I can see, but if there is more then they have serious usability problem.

Don't bother.